Essential Kitchen Tools Everyone Should Own

Whether you’re a newlywed, recent grad moving into your first apartment or perhaps one of the 32% of millennials that Pew Research Center recently reported as living at home with mom and dad—surely the idea of furnishing a kitchen has crossed your mind. I’d love to help you get started.

Here’s the deal: There are a few basic essential tools you absolutely need, without which you are not likely to use that kitchen for more than a place to pile takeout containers. We’re not talking about mountain of stuff—just ten basic essentials to get started.


1. FIRE EXTINGUISHER. My personal experience makes this an absolute requirement and number one on the list. It was one of those lazy Saturdays. I decided to make grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. I set the greased skillet over high heat and ran out to the garage to say something to my husband. A neighbor wandered over and we started talking. It was the smoke alarm that caught my attention and sent me flying. In those few moments that pan flamed out and caught the upper cabinet. My kitchen was on fire! The Kidde Fire Extinguisher (about $40) sitting on the counter saved the day. I am still surprised that I knew, almost intuitively, how to use the thing. Grateful.

2. KNIVES. You need good knives that can be sharpened and which you will keep sharp. And if you can find a set that comes with a wooden block and shears, plus at least a chef knife, carving and paring knives and perhaps even a bread knife like this 13-piece set (about $26) that’s exactly what you need.

3. POTS AND PANS. You can go broke on pots and pans or you can go smart with a high-quality basic set like this Cook N Home 12-Piece Stainless Steel Set (about $55). You want to make sure you have at least a skillet, a couple sauce pans and a larger pot for soups and stock. Each piece in this set comes with a glass lid. About $55.


You Paid How Much for Your First Computer?!

I just read something that made me laugh out loud—mostly because it’s funny, but also because it is poignantly true. 


I wonder what my kids are going to tell their kids … ‘It was so rough back in my day. I didn’t get a phone ’til 4th grade and sometimes the wifi didn’t always work upstairs!’”

You’re laughing too, aren’t you! Well, I want to add one more thing: “And back then a computer cost more than a thousand dollars!” I can visualize those kids of the future, slack jawed at the thought of having to pay that much money for a computer. Unthinkable. Right?

Over the years I have owned no fewer than seven computers—mostly because I just beat them to death, but also because I’ve convinced myself that as a writer, I need to be on the cutting edge of technology. 


Humidity—Not too High Not Too Low, But Just Right

Humidity is a popular topic among friends and neighbors here where I live in northern Colorado. It’s like we have none! Well, not exactly, but it averages in the low to mid 20 percent during the summer and fall months, and that’s dry! We have a humidifier in our home to keep the air moist and it runs 24/7 year round.


And then there’s the matter of high humidity—a troublesome condition for many—which came to mind when I heard from Will a few days ago.

DEAR MARY: I enjoy reading your daily emails, particularly ones on appliances. Do you have any recommendations for a quality dehumidifier for the home? Thanks in advance! Will

DEAR WILL: Apparently we make a great team, you and I, because I love testing, reviewing and recommending household appliances. I am confident and very happy to recommend two different high-quality machines (depending on the size of the space you have), both of which just happen to come from Frigidaire.

FRIGIDAIRE FAD504DWD Energy Star 50-pint Dehumidifier, about $189. This 50-pints-per-day machine will give you continuous operation in an area up to 1,500 sq. ft., as long as it is near a suitable drain. It will help to eliminate bacteria in the air, room odors, mold, mildew and other airborne particles. This machine is very quiet, and allows you to control the exact percentage of humidity in the room. For the money, I don’t think you can beat this option


Need Cleaning Supplies? Check the Pantry

The next time you need cleaning supplies, take a trip to your pantry, not the store. You already have the ordinary basic household items required to mix up any number of cleaners you need to keep the place sparkling clean and germ-free. Recipes? You need recipes? Well, this must be your lucky day, because I’ve got recipes!


All-purpose cleaner. Mix 1/2 cup white vinegar, 1 cup plain household ammonia, 1/4 (one-quarter) cup baking soda with 1 gallon warm water. Dispense in a spray bottle.

Window, glass and mirror cleaner. In a spray bottle mix together 2 cups isopropyl rubbing alcohol, 2 tablespoons liquid dishwashing detergent and 2 cups water.

Floor cleaner for ceramic tile, vinyl and linoleum floors. Mix together 1 cup white vinegar and 1 gallon hot water. Mop ceramic tile and all types of vinyl floors with this solution, no need to rinse.

Heavy-duty floor cleaner. Mix together 3/4 (three-fourths) cup plain household ammonia and 1 gallon warm water. Use on heavily soiled non-wood floors. No need to rinse.

Wood floor cleaner. Mix together 2 quarts boiling water and steep two regular tea bags in it. Let the water cool to room temperature. Remove bags. Use a well-wrung cloth mop or sponge mop (make sure it is just barely damp) to wipe the floor. The tannic acid in tea is great for the wood and leaves a beautiful shine.


Clever Tricks with Leftovers

If your refrigerator is at all like mine, it harbors leftovers and an odd assortment almost empties—bottles and jars of dressings and condiments. So what can you do with that? Try these suggestions on for size.



That last bit of applesauce in the jar will make a wonderful coleslaw dressing. Make sure you have about 1/2 cup applesauce left in the jar. Now add the following ingredients right into the jar:

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/3 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water

Apply the lid, shake well and toss with 4 cups shredded cabbage or packaged coleslaw mix. Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to meld. Yield: 8 servings.


Wash Clothes Inside Out and Other Laundry Tips and Tricks

I love to do laundry. I’m crazy that way. And I enjoy discovering ways to do it more efficiently—and by efficient I do mean cheaper, better and faster.

In fact, I was about ready to give myself a proper title, The Laundress, until I discovered a couple of very bright young women in New York City beat me to it. It’s OK. They can keep the title and charge an arm and a leg for their chi-chi laundry products in little bottles. Me? I’d rather use every tip I can find to create equally beautiful results and keep my money, too. Are you with me? Great! Here are some of my favorite laundry tips to get going.


WHEN WRONG IS RIGHT. Wash your clothes inside out to keep them looking newer longer. In this way the wrong side of the garment takes all of the abuse and fading caused by the agitation not the right side. Clothes get just as clean when washed inside-out.

SOFT DRY JEANS. You’ll never experience the heartbreak shrunken jeans if you do this: Put them in the dryer for only 10 minutes. That’s enough to soften them. Take them out still wet and hang on a hanger from ankles. The weight of the semi-wet jeans will pull out the wrinkles and keep them at their the proper length when fully dry.


Help! My Shark Vacuum is Acting Awkward and Stubborn

Did you hear about the shark incident in Florida? A young woman was bitten last Sunday and rushed to the hospital with the shark still attached to her arm!

Rescuers killed the shark before transporting the victim, but still it hung on. That was one stubborn shark and a lot creepier than the stubborn Shark one of my readers has been dealing with.


DEAR MARY: We purchased the Shark vacuum you so highly recommend. I do love the suction and cleaning prowess of the machine, but it seems awkward and difficult to push around on good quality plush carpeting. Marge

DEAR MARGE: Oh dear—something is not right! I can’t be sure which model Shark you have (the one I love, recommend and use nearly every day is Shark Navigator Lift-Away Professional) but for sure your Shark should not be difficult to maneuver on carpet!

With the Brush-Roll turned on, you’ll discover the Shark Pro has a self-propelling feature that pushes it forward, similar to a power lawn mower. Something tells me that perhaps you are attempting to use your Shark on carpet without this feature engaged.

Assuming we have the same model, take a look at yours. You should see a Power button and also a button for the Brush-Roll. In Power mode, you’re ready to vacuum hard surfaces like wood and tile. When you move to carpet, you need to press the Brush-Roll so it lights up green. When the Brush-Roll is engaged and you step on the foot release, you can feel the self-propelling feature kick in. Shark will nearly vacuum that carpet on its own!

If the suction is still too much for your plush carpet, you can make another adjustment. Towards the top of the handle, there is a ring you can turn to adjust the level of suction.

Once you’re set, all you need to do is follow behind and steer the thing with minimal effort. I sure hope that helps. There is nothing about a Shark Navigator Lift-Away Professional that should be awkward to push around.

If yours is a different model than mine, look for adjustments for suction and an indicator that the brush roll is engaged. And don’t forget to make sure that your Shark and filter is clean


10 Things to Know About Lestoil

Ever had the occasion to wonder where you’ve been all your life? That’s my reaction to a simple heavy-duty cleaning product, Lestoil. Apparently, it’s been manufactured right here in the U.S.A. for more than 80 years—and loved by many. Curiously, I’d never heard of it until just a few months ago.


On the off chance you, too, are not familiar with the powerful cleaner of all things hopelessly stained, here are 10 things you will enjoy knowing.

1. Lestoil is a heavy-duty multi-purpose household cleaner that can be used full-strength on stains—especially really difficult stains; the kind of stains you just give up on like ink, toner, grease, oil, scuff marks, blood, lipstick, nail polish, paint, grass stains, coffee stains, crayon and marker stains on every surface you can imagine—even the sticky stuff left behind by stickers and labels.

2. Lestoil has been around since 1933. While I have not been around quite that long, this makes me wonder where I have been since I’ve only learned about Lestoil in the past few months.

3. Lestoil has removed every old stain I’d given up on as well as every new stain I’ve acquired since the two of us met—on clothing, carpet, concrete and all kinds of patio furniture including molded plastic. It removed black stains that accumulated on outdoor furniture covers. It made short order of some ugly stains on cultured stone. It removed that gross, sticky residue that shows up on vinyl and plastic, restoring it back to its former glory. So far, Lestoil has worked on everything I’ve tried.

4. Lestoil contains, among other things, sodium tallate, which is a type of soap. This means that once the job is done, it must rinsed out, washed off or otherwise removed to make sure the item being treated doesn’t retain a residue that will attract a new stain.